Saturday, September 24, 2011

Free Advertisement for Spiral Diner

Another restaurant in Dallas that we visited twice was Spiral Diner. We loooove Spiral Diner. It's one of the best vegan restaurants in the middle of the United States. We've eaten here several times over the years (vegan Texas posts).

Night 1
We shared the nachos, which includes a cashew-based cheeze sauce and quinoa, as an appetizer.

Ryan ordered the Chopped BBQ San'ich with potato salad on the side. This is Ryan's kind of meal. My sister and I play a game of looking at menus online and guessing what everyone would order; we know each other well enough so we're usually right. I'm sure she has guessed this sandwich for him before.

As typical, he had slid his plate over to me before he ate so I could get a picture. He was making happy noises and tearing up as he ate, thoroughly enjoying himself. Then when he got to sandwich side #2, he said, "Oh, here's this side; did you want to get a picture?" He forgot that I'd already taken one. I asked, "Were you eating so fast, you thought you'd wolfed it down before I took a pic?" He said, "I don't remember the last five minutes, to be honest."

My sister made a comment on my Texas post last week about The Mitch. Oh, The Mitch. She remembered that I had once listed The Mitch as one of my 5 food choices if I was stranded somewhere indefinitely. (My family and I like to play fun games, don't we?!) Well, I haven't changed my mind yet. The Mitch remains.

Let's get another look at him. Chipotle mayo, bac'n bits, grilled tofu, lettuce, tomato, what appears to be plain mayo, and that "special extra piece of bread in the middle, big and delicious."

The kids each ordered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich off the kids' menu. Can't go wrong with that.

For dessert, I ate (and split with others - I know you guys think that since I'm pregnant, I'm eating everything in sight, but honestly, I'm taking it pretty easy on the dessert front) this cheesecake. It was really good. There's so much going on here: there is the plain cheesecake layer, a chocolate cheesecake layer, the bottom crust, and the back & side BROWNIE crust. Would like to know how they did this one.

The kids got a milkshake to go. My oldest son obviously picked cookies 'n cream because anytime cookies 'n cream is an option, that's what he'll choose. The other two got peanut butter.

Night 2

The next day, the kids ate lunch at Rainforest Cafe because we were at the Grapevine Mills Mall, and it looked sooo exciting to them (and it was pretty cool inside). They told me the kids' pasta was fine for someone with "allergies" to dairy and eggs (but not the toast, which has cheese melted on top, that comes with it - not sure if it's vegan without the cheese). I waited to get a big salad at Whole Foods after the mall because I wanted to fill myself with plenty of veggie nutrition before we hit Spiral again that night.

The kids got strawberry slushies, to start things off.

We got the Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas for an appetizer. That's an inside look at it. Really good. Ryan says it is unbelievable, and he's disappointed he didn't get this as his entree...every night.

Ryan ordered The Meatball Sub. Not as mind-blowing for him as the BBQ - but good, nonetheless.

I ordered...The Mitch. I won't bore you with another photo. But I did add avocado this time for Baby Junior's sake.

My daughter picked the Baby Aven Plate. I'm sure she did because of the name. But it was also really cute watching her pick up each little bite with her fingers as she giggled. The plate comes chilled, which might seem a little strange. Cold sweet potato?...not bad!

My oldest son picked the nachos like we got the night before as his meal, and my other son got plain cheeze quesadillas.

This time, Ryan and I got milkshakes to go. I like that their shakes don't fill up an entire cup, which makes it much lighter. I asked for my chocolate shake "really, really thick," and I can't say it was really, really thick, but that's okay. Ryan picked strawberry.

Here are a few desserts we had gotten to go and ate during the rest of the week at the hotel. The cupcake: good and small (for the perfect cake to frosting ratio), just the way I prefer them. Brownie: they make very good brownies. Cookie: eh, it's okay. I can make better, but the kids loved it. Peanut butter cup: it looks dry because I put it in the fridge. I've also had better of these, but it's not like you can go too wrong with a peanut butter cup.

I appreciate Spiral Diner not only for their tasty food in the middle of cow country - but they are also seemingly committed to being as environmentally friendly as they can be. And they use organic ingredients as much as possible, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Bliss"ful Dining

Last week, my husband was scheduled for a business trip in Dallas. He's had a lot of these types of trips this year (Arizona, California, Texas, North Carolina, etc.). We've had enough of his absence! He decided it would be great for us to go with him this time. He flew out one-way on Monday (so he could ride home with us at the end of the week), then Tuesday night, after the kids were finished with homeschool co-op, we made the 6 hour drive. He had meetings scheduled every day until suppertime (when he'd join us). But we found plenty to do while he was busy. Like eating.

The first restaurant we hit up was Bliss, raw cafe & elixir bar in the University Park area. I was really looking forward to this one. Ryan and I had eaten at the other location (which is no longer open) last year for our anniversary.

slices of zucchini and tomato layered with basil pistachio pesto, sun dried tomato sauce, and pignoli ricotta cheeze

This was my 11 year old's choice. He laughed with glee when his plate was set before him. We liked the little green "flag" sticking out of the "cheese" on top. He's so funny and predictable; he always eats meals like this in layers. First, he ate the tomato with ricotta, then he ate the zucchini strips with sauce, then the mushrooms, etc. The salad appeared to be just a plain, ordinary salad, but it was delicious. I loved whatever dressing was on it. (Something creamy plus maybe some agave?)

Greek Wrap
tahini hummus, guacamole, olives, carrots, chipotle hot drops, and capers

This is what my daughter ordered. Everything was just so good. It makes me want to eat raw and only raw every day. I mentally stored away plenty of ideas from the menu to eat at home.

Chocolate Bliss
raw cacao superfood power blend, agave nectar, mixed tocotrienols, coconut, and cacao butter

The kids gasped with happiness when they saw these drinks arrive. They were soooo chocolate-y. I thought it tasted like straight chocolate syrup. My 6 year old said, "Oh, it's so chocolate-y, I can't take it!" But then he kept drinking it, of course. You can get shots of the different elixirs, which I would do, rather than try to drink a whole glass.

My 6 year old opted out of ordering anything else. He does eat plenty of raw food, but there was no food combination on the menu that sounded appealing to him. (He doesn't like avocado, tomatoes, or zucchini, which really puts a halt to things at a raw place.) He would have been more excited if I'd just picked up an apple, some baby carrots, and a bag of nuts from the grocery store. He ate a meal replacement bar I had in my purse.

Coconut Kale Enchiladas
marinated kale with nacho cheeze, pico de gallo, tomatoes, black sesame seeds, and a "dash of cumin"

My meal. I could definitely eat this one every single day. I'm going to order some coconut wraps ASAP (or maaaybe try to make them). I have wanted to for awhile. This entree was on the small side, but I ended up eating half of my son's salad and half of one of my daughter's lettuce wraps, which made it perfect.

Strawberry Cheezecake
with chocolate sauce

We took our dessert to go. It was well received. It was partially frozen (less so by the time we got to our hotel). I don't know if it's supposed to be frozen, or if it was just brought out from the freezer. I like my desserts cold, but I would have liked this more if it didn't taste like icecream. But I think that's what my kids did like about it.

(The bill for the food above was...$78. My eyes popped out a little when I saw it...but it is what it is.)

A couple of days later, I called in an order for pick-up. My plan was to get something like nut butter sandwiches for the kids from an organic deli two doors down when I picked up my food. But by the time we got there, they were closed. Fortunately, there was also a Jamba Juice in the same shopping center, so they made do with smoothies and Clif bars plus more snacks back at the hotel.

My to-go meal:
Amigo Wrap
chili spice beans, taco pate, guacamole, red onion rings, tomatoes, pico de gallo, lettuce, and cashew sour creme, served on a lettuce wrap

The sauces on the side were tasty but spicy, and I couldn't handle much more spiciness after my gazpacho (below). The wrap - there were actually two of them with one order - was delicious and inspiring to me to eat more taco lettuce wraps (with cashew creme and nacho cheeze) at home. I've also never made raw taco filling at home, which I need to do.

Pineapple Cucumber Gazpacho

Because I am a creature of habit when ordering at restaurants, I made myself pick one thing off the menu that I normally would not order. Uh, big mistake. There is not generally anything (vegan) that I can't eat, solely based on taste. I mean, I'm pretty (very) picky about ingredients, but as far as taste being the only factor, I wouldn't let something go to waste.

However, I couldn't get even half of this down. I was pouting as I forced down as many bites as I could. The pineapple cucumber combination was fine, but it's also blended with cilantro, olive oil, green onion, and cracked pepper. I didn't like the overall taste, and it was sooo spicy. Despite my determination to eat my $9 soup in spite of...I had to throw it out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Arkansas Gets a Vegan Restaurant!

With my posting unpredictability lately, I know you weren't expecting another post from me so soon! But I have had a strange surge of energy this week.

Hot Springs Visitors' Center

A few Sundays ago, my family and I spent the day in Hot Springs, which is a little over an hour away from our house. The occasion: Arkansas now has a vegan restaurant called Garden Secrets!!! Squeals! You know I rarely go out to eat; this is great news for us.

I'm always a little nervous about trying a new, independent vegan place because there are those vegan restaurants that mean well - but are a little underwhelming with food that is not worth going out for. We were really happy with it, though! Everything we ordered tasted great and looked nice.

We started out with a couple of orders of regular and sweet potato fries. I'd strangely been craving fries ever since I watched Crazy, Stupid Love (my favorite movie at the moment which is so funny and heartwarming that I saw it twice in one week). There was a random scene or two with Ryan Gosling eating fries at a bar, and I couldn't stop thinking about wanting fries (which I rarely have because of the not going out to eat thing). I don't know if it was the fries or Ryan Gosling. Probably both. I went home the first night I watched it and made oven-baked tater tots, which was a temporary fix. But it wasn't the same as having actual restaurant fried fries.

I ordered Eggplant Parmesan ($10.95), which came with a big side of spaghetti and garlic bread on the side. (Had to scrape off the burnt part of the toast.) I thought it was really good! I thought they were generous with the portion size.

Ryan ordered the Cheeseburger. Good!

The kids ordered Garden Quesadillas with "cheese," spinach, and mushrooms (no mushrooms for the youngest two) on spinach tortillas. Good!

I was super, duper excited about dessert, knowing I was going to order the Turtle Cheesecake and hoping someone else would order the Strawberry Cheesecake so I could try it. But tragically, they only had one or two desserts that day, not including cheesecake.

I went without dessert (although tried one bite for blogging review purposes, of course), but the others shared two orders of Brownie Madness.

After lunch, we spent some time walking along the main downtown street. (The row of historic bath houses are on the left.) We went in a few shops, walked along a trail that looks out over the city, and dipped our fingers into the "hot springs," which are REALLY hot.

Arlington Hotel

Here is the facebook page for Garden Secrets. They seem to be getting good reviews, so far. The only downsides: 1) They are closed on Saturdays. 2) The menu in the restaurant was a bit smaller than the one online (and not sure if that is always the case). We always look at online menus ahead of time, so that was a little disappointing.

I hope this place sticks around!

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Sweet" News!

Even though I'm normally a chocolate (or creamy, as in cheesecake) girl when it comes to desserts, I've been craving fruit desserts all summer. We've been making the most of the plentiful supply of organic strawberries at Whole Foods lately and enjoying our favorite new dessert: Fresh Strawberry Pie from Vegalicious.

I like this recipe (which we've made many times) because it is a no-bake pie. (You fill the pie with fresh berries and cover it with a sauce of cooked strawberries, cornstarch, sugar, and water.) Half of the strawberries remain uncooked, so I feel like I'm eating a healthier pie. Also, I always cut the sugar in half (at least), and it tastes great without so much. (I've even tried adding strawberry fruit spread with just a little sugar, and that works, too.) Our only trouble with this pie is being impatient by cutting it too soon (which doesn't affect the taste). If you let it sit in the fridge many hours or overnight, it will form up very well.

We enjoyed some blueberry picking this summer at a local pesticide-free patch...

...and some of those berries ended up in these pies. (The strawberry portion is for my 6 year old who doesn't love blueberries in every capacity.)

That pie turned into this.

And blueberries sometimes find their way into our Vegalicious strawberry pies, too.

strawberry shortcake, using broken up pieces of pie crust and Soyatoo

I actually did a Strawberry Shortcake-themed unit (for homeschooling) with the kids this summer. We cooked and enjoyed as many strawberry recipes as possible like...

...strawberry muffins.

I also made a cherry pie recently (served with almond icecream). I'm tellin' ya; we're a little fruity lately.

Of course, that doesn't mean I've entirely given up my first love: chocolate. I discovered Sarah Kramer's Nanaimo Bars on Shenandoah Vegan's blog. These are insane. As in ridiculously tasty and so rich we couldn't eat more than a few bites at a time. I think next time I'll make the middle layer a little thinner because we're not used to so much sugar. My 6 year old had no problem eating more than a few bites at a time, though. He can't wait until I make these again.

And, for my other "sweet" news...

No, it's not from eating too many desserts! We're expecting #4 in January. My uterus and stomach wasted no time in popping out this time, and I've looked pregnant pretty much since I found out the news. I'm about 22 weeks right now; this picture was taken several weeks ago. And we have already found's a...

BABY BOY!!! To surprise the kids with the news, Ryan took them into the other room while I set the table with the balloons, blue plates & napkins, and the ultrasound pictures. (The kids were verrrrry amused with the pics of the you-know-what. With 3 guys, soon to be 4 guys, in my house, this is obviously a frequent topic of conversation in our family.)

Our celebration meal: tater tots & veggie burgers with all the toppings, including pesto and my favorite - homemade chipotle "mayonnaise" made by using any vegan soymilk/oil mayo recipe online and blending it with a chipotle pepper.

The picture above doesn't really do my size justice.
Maybe this one, taken at 15 weeks, does a better job. People are a little surprised when I tell them I'm not due until January. I always offer a feeble, "Yeah, I know I'm really showing." I don't always go into details about the fact this is my 4th so my uterus is already "broken in." And I'm just one of those women whose body naturally packs it on during pregnancy.

Also, I really do love to eat.